By Chris Dixon
Courage, honour, elegance, and fair play. That is the list of values that underpin the ethos of the Fegentri – the International Federation of Gentlemen and Lady Riders. They are values that Elie Hennau refers to regularly as he speaks with enthusiasm and pride about the organisation of which he is now president, and his own career as an amateur rider.
“I won the Amateur Riders’ Derby at Epsom in 1999 on a 25/1 shot and beat Ryan Moore who was second on one for his father. My whip did not comply with the British standards and I had to borrow one. It was Frankie Dettori who gave me his whip for the race so I beat Ryan using Frankie’s whip – this is probably the thing I’m most proud of in my whole life!”
Now 44, Hennau held down a full-time job whilst enjoying a 15-year spell in the saddle, during which time he rode in around 1000 races and partnered almost 100 winners. As a rider in the Fegentri series he met new friends, experienced different countries, and got a great thrill from the sport. Racing helped him grow, and now it’s time to give something back. “If I’m completely transparent then this wasn’t the best time in my life to take on this presidency as I already have too many things to do and this is an unpaid job. But I do it for the love of the sport. Maybe I was expecting to do this when I was a little older, but the opportunity was there and I wanted to give back to racing all of the great things racing gave to me.”
Created by a group of enthusiastic amateurs at St. Moritz in 1955, Fegentri has expanded and developed into an organisation whose membership currently consists of ‘clubs’ in 23 different countries across four continents and has a high-profile sponsor in Longines. The mission of the organisation is to promote international races for amateur riders and to organise the Fegentri World Championship. As Hennau explains, “We don’t organise the races as such, but we provide the riders for them and organise the championships. There are two world championships, one for gentleman riders and one for lady riders. This year there were 60 races across 40 different tracks in 15 different countries, and we had seven gentleman riders and 10 lady riders.”
Not every member sends a representative every year, and the idea is for the series to be contested by the best amateurs around the world, with each member currently able to send just one rider, either a male or female, to represent them. “There is a minimum of five wins required to ride in the series and every country can decide who they send, but normally they should be the champion. Ideally they should be the best and if not, they must be one of the best.”
Hennau regularly speaks about the emphasis on quality riders competing in the series. “I am not worried about quantity; I care about the quality. By that I mean the quality of riding ability, which is the first element, but also the quality of values.” He then explains the other key component of selection to race as part of Fegentri: “It is also important that the riders represent our values, and the message to our members is, ‘Please send a rider that corresponds to our values of courage, honour, elegance, and fair play.’ It is only when a member has a rider of the right quality who holds the right values that they should be put forward.”
It’s by ensuring quality amateurs are in place to ride and through sticking to these values that Hennau can have confidence in the capabilities of riders taking part in Fegentri, and he is keen to press the point home to help ensure the series continues to thrive. “It’s a combination of having racing authorities that understand the need to keep this alive, of having local clubs that explain the series to their trainers, and going to those trainers to tell them that we need their help.” He is aware and understands that some trainers, especially in the major racing jurisdictions where the quality of horse is that much higher, may have some reservations about trusting an unknown rider to give their charge a safe ride that they are happy with. However, he believes that these reservations are misguided. “My message is that we have top quality riders. I want to let trainers know that the boys and girls riding in these races will be top quality riders, comparable to the best amateur riders you could have in your own country.”